Broken Records and Rays of Light
Published on November 10th, 2010 | by Carlos J. Segura0
Film Forum’s latest showcase of filmmaker and sculptor Bruce Conner titled “Bruce Conner: The Art of Montage” features two programs of Bruce Conner’s avant-garde shorts, twelve of them in Program A and five in Program B, which are being alternately screened on the same days. Although either program will manage to give you a satisfactory taste of Conner’s content, style and time periods should you chose to see only one program (both include his early creations to his latest). However, a continuous view of the programs is much more rewarding and interesting.
It’s not just because the quality of the work is more often than not consistent; it’s also a welcome pleasure to become familiar in such a concise and compact way—the entire program totals two and a half hours— with a filmmaker that is so obsessively preoccupied with images that are often very beautiful, even if they’re images of destruction. These images range from pretty and unclothed girls to iconic Americana to fleeting fireworks and explosions, that either flow together—noteworthy is Conner’s ability to play with hyperactive editing patterns or even very slow ones—or counteract each other. This system of continuous flow and/or counteraction extends to how these images either complement any one of the forms or subjects Conner takes up—subjects and forms that include the Epic Movie, the assassination of JFK, a piece of art, Marilyn Monroe and so forth—or play against Conner’s chosen forms.
One of the best, and more pop oriented, examples of Conner’s visual motifs and use of counteraction can be found amongst program A which includes such rollicking titles as: “Cosmic Ray,” “Vivian” and “Breakaway” which all feature young, attractive and—save for “Vivian”—often half or entirely naked women. All the young ladies are often exuberant and uninhibited subjects when it comes to playing, dancing, posing or modeling to songs which include, in order according to film title: “What’d I Say” sung by Ray Charles, “Mona Lisa” by Conway Twitty and “Breakaway” by Toni Basil. While the second and third films are meant to be pure aesthetic abandon—“Vivian,” the most easygoing speed-wise, could easily have been modeled on Anna Karina at her cutest in Godard’s work while “Breakaway” gives Madonna’s “Ray of Light” video a run for its money—“Cosmic Ray,” which is easily one of the highlights of the two programs, adds some jarring ruckus to the party. Along with bursts of sped-up shots of fireworks and streetlamps, plus the sight of our female subject reveling in every one of Charles’ feel-so-goods you’re suddenly and repetitively thrown for a loop by shots of war, Native Americans, soldiers, and…Mickey Mouse?! Counteraction, indeed.
Surprisingly, the best film out of both programs is perhaps the most atypical because it covers an actual event in a linear fashion along with being relatively simple when it comes to its minimal use of imagery. (“Report” omits and rearranges too much of the actual footage filmed during Kennedy’s assassination to be considered straightforward.) “The White Rose,” while not about anything seemingly notable—a group of workers are brought in to haul out an uncompleted piece of art by Jay DeFeo—the choice of Joquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” performed by Miles Davis is able to serve as both a contrasting and complementary element; Conner’s editing and camerawork, jittery and anxious, along with compositions of Ms. DeFeo with her back to the camera as she sits near the window during the haul of the work of art with her body covered in shadow, make the whole affair feel as if they’re hauling a dearly beloved out of the building. “The White Rose” is a thing of cool beauty.